Rick Hanson: Brain Science for Self-Fulfillment

Psychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, has authored several popular books that emphasize how to rewire your brain to achieve increased happiness and fulfillment. The most recent, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happinesscame out last March.

The following are quotes from a few of his previous books.

I. Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (2009)

When you identify with something as “me” or try to possess something as “mine,” you set yourself up for suffering, since all things are frail and will inevitably pass away. When you stand apart from other people and the world as “I,” you feel separate and vulnerable—and suffer.

If compassion is the wish that someone not suffer, kindness is the wish that he or she be happy.

The point is not to resist painful experiences or grasp at pleasant ones: that’s a kind of craving—and craving leads to suffering. The art is to find a balance in which you remain mindful, accepting, and curious regarding difficult experiences—while also taking in supportive feelings and thoughts.

Positive experiences can also be used to soothe, balance, and even replace negative ones. When two things are held in mind at the same time, they start to connect with each other. That’s one reason why talking about hard things with someone who’s supportive can be so healing: painful feelings and memories get infused with the comfort, encouragement, and closeness you experience with the other person.

[K]eep in mind the big picture, the 1,000-foot view. See the impermanence of whatever is at issue, and the many causes and conditions that led to it. See the collateral damage – the suffering – that results when you cling to your desires and opinions or take things personally. Over the long haul, most of what we argue about with others really doesn’t matter that much.

II. Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (2011)

There are three fundamental phases to psychological and spiritual growth: being with difficult material (e.g., old wounds, anger); releasing it; and replacing it with something more beneficial.

People recognize that they’ve got to make an effort over time to become more skillful at driving a truck, running a department, or playing tennis. Yet it’s common to think that becoming more skillful with one’s own mind should somehow come naturally, without effort or learning. But because the mind is grounded in biology, in the physical realm, the same laws apply: the more you put in, the more you get back. To reap the rewards of practice, you need to do it, and keep doing it.

Getting excited about something together is bonding; shared enthusiasm makes a movie, concert, political rally, conversation, or lovemaking a lot more rewarding.

III. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (2013)

Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.

Our ancestors could make two kinds of mistakes: (1) thinking there was a tiger in the bushes when there wasn’t one, and (2) thinking there was no tiger in the bushes when there actually was one. The cost of the first mistake was needless anxiety, while the cost of the second one was death. Consequently, we evolved to make the first mistake a thousand times to avoid making the second mistake even once.

I think the sweet spot in life is to pursue your dreams and take care of others with your whole heart while not getting fixated on or stressed out about the results. In this place, you live with purpose and passion but without losing your balance and falling into a sense of pressure, strain, or depletion. This sweet spot is very valuable, so take it in whenever you experience it.

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